3 Tips from the Temple Square Gardeners

When I first started my Utah flower farm, Save the Bees Flower Co, I tried hunting down local gardening experts that could tell me more about growing field-to-vase blooms.

There are tons of books on flower farming and gardening in general, but nothing beats finding a local expert with the same growing conditions.

Two places came to mind immediately: Salt Lake City’s Temple Square and the Ashton Gardens at Thanksgiving Point.

I live in Lehi so contacting the master gardener at Ashton Gardens was relatively simple. However, hunting down the Temple Square master gardener proved more difficult. Unexpectedly, a routine trip to the library solved my problem!

It turns out there was a book written by a few of the Temple Square gardeners a few years ago called, “Temple Square Gardening.” This book is golden for local growers with very specific tips related to our Utah soils, weeds and pest challenges.

I also realized that I KNEW one of the authors! I literally exclaimed, “Hey I know her!” before remembering I was in a library. #shhhhhhh

My flower farming friend Shelly Zollinger never mentioned working on Temple Square or co-writing a BOOK about it. After picking her brain some more and devouring the book, I took away three main tips that you can read below.

Photo by Devin Justesen on Unsplash

3 Tips from the Temple Square Gardeners:

1. Take advantage of hardy annuals: Hardy annuals are not a new gardening concept, but one often overlooked by the home gardener or new flower farmer. A hardy annual is basically a flower you can plant in the fall and it will overwinter in the garden and bloom better and earlier in spring. This is extremely useful in our Utah climate, because our spring jumps right into the heat of summer.

“Over the years the Temple Square gardening staff has “invented” spring-blooming gardens for Utah…waiting until the soil dries out in the spring before planting pansies and other spring flowers means that by the time they finally become established, it’s almost time to take them out.”

The temple square gardeners plant the bulk of their gorgeous spring blooms in fall. (I also loved that the “Temple Square Gardening” book lists all the plants and flowers used as hardy annuals on Temple Square!)

I feel like people are intimidated by the idea of winter gardening, but it really is quite simple and it uses a lot less water (which is a big bonus in our state). I wrote a whole post on my experience with hardy annuals and winter gardening in Utah that you can read here. (For flower farming I recommend Lisa Ziegler’s Cool Flowers book too.)

2. Soil prep is the key to success: Again, this concept was not new to me, but I loved how the gardeners broke down Utah’s soil strengths and weaknesses and explained how it all fit together. The Temple Square gardens are routinely soil tested, amended and tilled to a depth of 8-10 inches.

“Adding organic matter is the easiest and best way to improve your soil….Soil texture dramatically affects the availability of plant nutrients….Amending sand or clay soils with organic matter improves nutrient-holding capacity. Soil pH also effects the ability of plants to absorb nutrients.”

The Temple Square gardeners identify Utelite as one of their “secrets” to creating better texture in their heavy clay soil. And unlike compost, Zollinger noted that you can add up to 50 percent Utelite to soil without worrying. (Apparently, Utelite is something you can find at most nurseries, but I was unaware of its existence until now!)

3. Take a natural approach to pest and weed control: “The earth was cursed to bring forth thistles and weeds, and that happens in the Temple Square gardens just as it does in your garden…For most weeds, prevention, rather than warfare, is the best control.”

You can prevent weeds by avoiding questionable top soils, using soil amendments that are fully composted correctly and catching weeds before they drop seed.

The grounds workers also noted that nature does not tolerate bare ground and weeds will quickly move in to your blank spots. They suggest beating the weeds by crowding them out with a canopy of flowers. “Where your plants flourish, weeds are not nearly as likely to grow.”

Temple Square gardeners use IPM (Integrated Pest Management). Basically, they maintain healthy plants that are naturally more disease and pest resistant and maintain pest population at an acceptable level. They do this by planting the right plants at the right time into amended soil, using good fertilizer and irrigation practices, encouraging a healthy ecosystem with beneficial insects etc.

They rely first on organic controls like hand picking or organic oils, but will also use chemical controls like Bt or soap sprays when necessary.

I do most of the same things, but I liked the added tip to plant a variety of plants. That way if something falls pray to pests or disease, your garden is not all lost.

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What I found the most insightful, was that the gardeners design everything in a simple and natural style so it points back to the Creator rather than themselves. I’ve heard that they will literally toss a handful of tulip bulbs in the garden and let them land where they may.

It takes 34 full time gardeners, 30 seasonal gardeners, help from over 80 Church service missionaries and a thousand volunteers each spring and fall (for initial planting) to maintain the Temple Square gardens.

So the next time you see a grounds worker at the Temple, thank them for all their hard work! Maybe even volunteer to help!

If you have your own questions about growing a flower garden, feel free to subscribe to my Cut Flower Garden newsletter. I was pretty frustrated when I first started flower farming and had to hunt for good sources about specialty cut blooms in Utah. (Most gardeners gave me the side eye when I asked about stem length and vase life rather than heirloom tomatoes or water-wise landscaping.)

However, I am now a budding urban flower farmer in Lehi harvesting from over 1800 plants right in my yard using high density farming practices! I am happy to share my knowledge with those that want to create a little piece of heaven in their garden and enjoy fresh blooms on their table all season long.

Happy Gardening!

Maria

5 Vase Life Hacks for Your Locally Grown Flowers

Your locally grown cut flowers are a little different in the vase than your grocery store bouquets.

They are not bred for shipping across seas. This means your local blooms will  smell wonderful and last longer….IF you treat them like locally grown flowers.

What?! I demand flowers with minimal effort! I know, but unfortunately this is reality. And in reality, flowers are living things that need food, water and some TLC.

Here are 5 Vase Life Hacks for your Locally Grown Flowers:

  1. Keep the water clean enough: How clean you ask? If you wouldn’t drink out of the vase yourself, then don’t let your flowers! Why? Flowers are drinking that water up the stems and the tiniest debris can clog the stem. Think of it like a tiny coffee straw, but smaller. Wash your vases and buckets (if you are harvesting) before every use. Then check your vase regularly to be sure it stays that clean and FULL. Fun fact: Overseas blooms are bred to drink less water so they survive shipping. Your local blooms will drink a LOT more water and you will need to keep an eye on it.
  2. Give your flowers a haircut and condition: If you just bought local flowers, then recut the bottom inch or two of the stem and strip any leaves off that will sit below the water line. Flowers will benefit from having the bottom 2/3 of their stem leaf free. It will allow the plant to focus more energy on keeping that bloom healthy and hydrated. Don’t play with your flowers until you condition them! Put them in a cool, clean vase of water (with flower food) out of direct sunlight for a few hours first. They have been through a lot and need time to bounce back before you start arranging them and moving them around. Mess with your flowers before they get enough TLC and you will notice blooms and leaves falling off.
  3. Feed them: I wondered if feeding flowers those little packets was really necessary. Does it really help? Yes. Yes it does. This thrifty gal now uses flower food religiously. Your plants cannot survive on water alone. They used to be rooted into the richest of soil that provided a constant supply of nutrients. They are now on a major diet that is limited to flower food packets. Feed your flowers and you will lengthen their vase life PLUS the flower food packets keep the water clean! Without the flower food, you will be changing the water every day to keep it clean enough. Dirty water = bacteria. Bacteria = dead flowers. I ask nicely for a flower food packet while grocery shopping and the kind employees always give me a handful. You can also buy them in bulk on Amazon.
  4. Don’t roast your flowers: This should be a duh, but unfortunately, it needs to be said. Don’t leave your flowers in a hot car (or hot window). Crank that AC up and place your flowers out of direct sunlight for the ride home. If your blooms do wilt, don’t give up! I have had blooms look totally limp that I brought back to vitality. Recut the stem an inch or two, place in boiling water for a few seconds and then place in cool water with flower food for a few hours. Its like magic watching a limp “dead” flower rehydrate into a beautiful straight stem. “Have you ever made anything happen? Anything you couldn’t explain when you were angry or scared?” #potterhead
  5. Harvest with good habits: If you are harvesting from your own garden, do so during the coolest part of the day (early morning or late evening). Flowers cut in the hot part of the day will wilt. Also learn when the best harvestable stage is for each flower variety. Some blooms stop dead in their tracks once cut, while others continue to open. Harvest with a clean bucket of water on hand if you will be out for a long time. Some flowers even need the ends seared in boiling water before they are set in cool water to condition. Other flowers like Daffodils leak a sap that is poisonous to other flowers and will need to rest for a few hours before mixing with other varieties. And still other flowers with woody stems (like lilacs) need a vertical cut up the stem post harvest. Learn a little more about your flowers and their individual quirks so you can set them up for success in the vase. Always harvest with clean, sharp shears so you don’t blunt their stems (making it harder for them to drink up water and flower food). As you harvest, clean 2/3 of the leaves off the stem. This will save the flower the effort of keeping all those leaves hydrated and instead it can focus more energy on the bloom. After harvest, bring them inside and let them rest in a cool place outside of direct sunlight before you play with them. It is also a good idea to boost them with some flower food after the trauma of being cut.

As always, each post is a labor of love and the result of hours, sometimes days, of work. I would love it if you commented below. I like hearing from you (and knowing someone is out there), plus it boosts my website in the Google servers. Happy Flower Farming!

5 Reasons Flowers Are Good for Mental Health

Besides being good for the bees, did you know flowers are good for your your mental health too?

Some months ago, a friend posted a picture of flowers she recieved anonymously with the caption, “Every time I walk in the kitchen, I remember someone loves me.”

I think of that story whenever someone says flowers are not worth the money “because they die.”

It is my beleif that giving a little kindness to yourself and/or others is never a waste. Keep reading to find out why.

Here are 5 Mental Health Benefits of Flowers:

  1. Flowers ease recovery of hospital patients: Research shows that patients recovering in the hospital benefit from fresh flowers in their room. Patients were less likely to need additional pain medication, they also had less anxiety and feelings of fatigue. The same study also noted better blood pressure readings and heart rates thanks to the bedside blooms.
  2. Flowers have a long-lasting impact on happiness: “One study reported that 80% of people who received flowers had a positive change to their mood that lasted for days.” So not only, are you making someone’s day by giving them flowers, you are making their whole week. And yes, the flowers will fade, but the memory will last forever. That doesn’t mean you have to wait to receive flowers to enjoy the benefits of improved mood. Another “study showed that when frequently exposed to flowers, people reported lower levels of depression and anxiety and lower stress levels, with higher enjoyment levels and a stronger sense of life satisfaction.” (Source FlowerFox.com)
  3. Flowers in the home reduce depression and anxiety: Want those good moods to stick around? A Harvard study revealed that flowers feed compassion and chase away anxiety and worries. “The research participants lived with fresh flowers for just a few days and reported increases in feelings of compassion and kindness for others. Overall, people simply felt less negative after being around flowers.” (Society of American Florists) Psychologists also noted that “flower moods” are contagious. Basically, the lucky people that have fresh flowers, spread the good vibes around. They are more compassionate and considerate to others.
  4. Flowers get the creative juices flowing: Green work spaces that have plants or flowers are known to reduce stress levels and in one study increased creative ideas by 30%. Another study, concluded that green spaces in the workplace resulted in more good ideas, innovative thinking and better problem-solving abilities.
  5. Flowers make the giver happy too: This comes as no surprise to me. Studies show that those that those that give flowers are happier. You send a bouquet to brighten someones day and you brighten your own! That’s what I call a win-win situation.

The next time you contemplate getting yourself or a loved one some blooms, just do it!